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Treating Your Symptoms Medically

Women who go through menopause know firsthand just how uncomfortable and disruptive the symptoms can be. Let’s take look and discuss some of the clinical treatments and therapies available for women dealing with these conditions.

HFN 007 TreatingMedically 1 17251046Addressing Specific Symptoms
Most women in menopause experience hot flashes. Unfortunately, this condition can be one of the more unsettling and uncomfortable symptoms menopausal women encounter. Before you attempt to treat this issue, it’s important to understand some of the behavior that can add to the frequency and intensity of hot flashes. Heavy use of alcohol and tobacco, for example, will worsen hot flashes, as will spicy foods, and should be avoided. If possible, you should also steer clear of high-stress situations, as stress can trigger and intensify hot flashes.  

How You React to Stress
Obviously there are stressful situations you have no control over, such as many in the workplace.  It’s your response to these events that can make a difference—the more upset you get, the more your blood pressure might spike. If a hot flash interrupts an important discussion, instead of getting mega embarrassed, you can either make a joke of it or you can practice gentle, but deep, breathing.  See HFN's article on Stress Busters for more hints.

If you still find hot flashes difficult to handle, there are a variety of medications that doctors can prescribe, such as some form of estrogen or an antidepressant that can help lessen the discomfort that accompanies hot flashes. Every woman is different, and you should consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Lost Your Sex Drive?
Many menopausal women experience a loss of sex drive, which often stems from the vaginal dryness and discomfort that accompanies menopause. Before letting this become an issue in your relationship, talk about it with your partner and make an effort to explore solutions—the easiest one being the use of a water-soluble lubricant.  There are many over-the-counter preparations in this category, and they’re easy to find at the pharmacy. There are also prescription medications available to alleviate vaginal dryness. Your primary healthcare provider or gynecologist is a great resource. For more information on this topic, visit our Sexual Health section.

Help for Incontinence
Incontinence, or the involuntary leakage of urine, is another issue that some menopausal women are forced to go through. Estrogen plays a role in keeping your pelvic muscles strong, so when your estrogen levels decrease, you could experience incontinence. Extra weight that often accompanies menopause could cause more pressure on your bladder, as well. In minor cases, the solution can lie in simple dietary changes, such as eliminating caffeinated drinks, which act as diuretics, while still drinking aequate amounts of water to make sure bacteria is flushed out of your bladder and urethra.

Also try Kegel exercises (a tightening and loosening of your pelvic floor muscles), which help strengthen your pelvic muscles. Hold the contraction for a count of three and do three sets of 15 Kegels a day, making sure you're only contracting your pelvic muscles, not your abdomen or thighs. It might take three to six weeks to notice an improvement. In more serious situations, medical procedures are necessary. For example, devices such as pessaries or bladder swings can be fitted for you and inserted into the vagina to help relieve pressure on the bladder. Ask your doctor if medical procedures like this are right for you.

Hormone Replacement Therapy
Most menopausal symptoms are caused by the hormone imbalance that occurs when the ovaries begin producing less estrogen. Consisting of doses of estrogen and sometimes progesterone (or progestin, the synthetic equivalent), hormone replacement therapy (HRT) replaces hormones that your body is no longer producing. HRT treats a broad variety of menopausal symptoms and can even help guard against osteoporosis and bowel cancer.

If you’re considering HRT, you should know that there are also risks that come with it. HRT that consists strictly of estrogen has been known to increase the risk of endometrial cancer, even after treatment has ceased. If you’ve had a hysterectomy and hence do not have a uterus, this is not an issue.  Studies have also revealed that women who undergo HRT that combines both estrogen and progesterone doses run a higher risk of developing breast cancer.  See HFN's more detailed article on HRT.

Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy is a relatively new version of HRT in which the hormones taken by the patient are chemically identical to the hormones produced by your body. So far, it is not clear whether or not bioidentical hormone replacement therapy presents a safer form of HRT.  For more information, see HFN's article on this topic.

To learn more about the personal risks and benefits of HRT and its different forms, it is recommended to consult your physician. ♀

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